Sunday, June 08, 2014

Boonesville Backwoods Ultra 100K

...or the "Bridges of Madison County" 100K. In Booneville, Iowa (near Des Moines), on May 24, 2014. Of course, these bridges were made famous by the book and movie.

On May 24 (2014) I lined up with 21 other runners to try the inaugural Booneville Backwoods Ultra 100K.
Pre-race with Mike McElmeel and Larry Kelly. Photo courtesy of Mike McElmeel
There was a 50K race (and 50K relay) but I was in the 100K version. Some logistics about the course:

Maybe fairly uniquely, it is one big 100K loop. That's kinda nice. You never see the same thing twice. It was almost on all gravel roads, with a few miles of "Level B" roads thrown in, and a few more miles of pavement/asphalt here and there when going through small towns. Level B roads are really just two dirt ruts for (mainly trucks) to go down. They are a bit more technical, but nothing like a difficult trail race.

Level B road
The gravel roads were your basic country roads.

The race is hilly by road racing standards. There was 2900 feet of elevation gain and that much of loss, much of it in long medium-steep roads. While slowing me down some, they also provided me with natural walking breaks, so they weren't all that unwelcome.

The course was not difficult technically. Easy to run. Lots of gravel. Since I had on my Hoka Bondis, I didn't feel those rocks much. The level B roads were a bit more technical, and steep in points, but as I said, not a lot of that.

The aid stations were far apart, at about every ten miles. Between these were unmanned water/Gatorade drops. I had on my waist Camelbak and always managed to have enough fluids, usually a mixture of water and Gatorade.
At the beginning of the race, with my waist Camelbak. Photo courtesy of Mike McElmeel.
The aid stations were minimal but functional. Usually just water/Gatorade and gels, but a couple had more food like pretzels, bananas, and oranges.

The course was minimally marked as well with small orange flags at the numerous turns. But they made cue sheets for us which was actually very handy. I used them to think about how far until the next turn, which helped break the distance into small segments. No stretch was longer than about six miles, and most were significantly shorter, even down to 0.1 miles.

The weather was wonderful. Generally overcast, with a slight breeze. The first 2-3 hours were downright perfect (we began at 6:00am). Even in the warmest part of the afternoon when it was quite warm, it was bearable, in part thanks to fairly low humidity.

How the race went:

We all got our timing chip at the Booneville Bar/Waveland Cafe, in Booneville. We were then transported just a quarter mile or so (but over a highway) to the start point. After a starting picture and a few words from enthusiastic RD Steve Cannon, we were off. One guy took off like a bat out of heck. The rest of us stretched out, with me near the back. From the beginning I walked the hills and tried to pace myself, and in general things worked out well for me. No huge issues, although as usual I suffered from painful feet and near cramping in the legs (and arms, and anything). I tried to take in the scenery, something one can actually do when you're not concerned with tripping every five seconds, a drawback in technical trail races. There were usually people around me the first 10 miles or so. After that I was pretty much on my own (which I like), although I might see someone at an aid station or some distance from me.

We were allowed drop bags and I strategically had one at aid stations 1, 3, and 5 (10 miles, 30 miles, 53 miles). At 53 miles I grabbed a reflective vest (mandatory if you would be out past 7pm) and a headlamp although I thought I wouldn't need it, which I didn't. There generally were no portapotties at the aid stations. One had one. The rest didn't. But we did pass a few convenience stores. Luckily I didn't need one. I just watered the trees along the way here and there.

I ate very little solid food. I took in about one gel per hour. Other than that I had one Clif Bar, a few pieces of orange, a couple of pretzels, and a couple of fig Newtons. I drank quite a bit of Gatorade.

I enjoyed the Grant Wood scenery.

Everything was green, and the hills were rolling, and we passed creeks and farm animals here and there.

And of course we went through the bridges. Four of them I think. It's unclear to me if those are all of them or not. (Wikipedia lists six. Maybe we did not do Imes or Roseman?)

I pulled out my phone and took a number of pictures. I enjoy doing this. Not only does it remind me to enjoy my time out there and to not take it so seriously, but it also forces more breaks in my running, conserving my energy.

Late in the race. Sun getting low.
My final time was 14:05:21 (finishing about 8:30pm), good for 14th of 18 finishers and 22 starters. I'm happy to say I was still running at the end, which is a good sign. Plus my last 9 miles were at a faster pace than the previous 30. I was transported back to the bar where I had myself some excellent pizza before heading home. I recommend this race - if it is your style. It's not super epic or full of fanfare, and it's rather minimal in some ways, but it's more than a fatass. (If you want to know, we got chip timing and we all got a cotton t-shirt, but no medal, and only top 3 M & F got awards. That's fine with me. And the shirt is cool enough.) Periodically a guy on a motorcycle was driving by us, checking on us, as well as friends/relatives of other runners and aid station people, so I didn't feel alone in the wilderness. But the casual atmosphere was also its appeal. Just get out and run. If you're looking for a peaceful race with nice country scenery, an enthusiastic RD, great volunteers, and a course that's easy to run but with some hills to tackle, give this a try. It's moderately priced for what you get ($70, compare to a road marathon), and a great training run for a 100 miler (or so I hope), or it's a chance to go a little farther than 50 miles for the first time. Some folks may have felt the aid stations were too few and too minimal. Maybe, but I'm sure the RD will take that into consideration next time. No disasters on his first try? That's a success.

Some rough splits:

Mile 23, 4:37, 12:03 pace
Mile 42, 9:04, 14:35 for last 19, 12:57 overall pace
Mile 53, 11:56, 15:38 for last 11, 13:31 overall pace
Finish 62, 14:05:21, 14:20 for last 9, 13:38 overall pace

All done!
 Here is the full set of pictures on Flickr.

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